Thursday, July 21, 2005

Chapter 15

Many cradle Catholics have told me they never thought of Catholicism from a Jewish perspective, and have learned alot here about Jewish Law and tradition. This is understandable, especially for those raised as Catholics. For me, however, unless I could see how Catholicism was Jewish, it didn't count.

I admit to a certain bias here. I really believe that the Jewish Covenant came from God so it's going to take something more than just some Christian saying so , to convince me that Jesus is not only the Messiah, and divine, but also that the Catholic Church is the place to be. If I can't find the Jewish roots, fuhgetaboudit.

That is why, when I came upon an article about gehenna at the Aish haTorah website I was especially intrigued. Here was the Jewish teaching on a subject I had thought was uniquely and strangely Catholic, Purgatory! There it was, all laid out. The reason we say the Kaddish for a year after a loved one's death is to help our deceased through the purification neccesary to enter the presence of God. Now the Sages, unhindered by minor details like "We have no way of really knowing" taught that only the most utterly wicked spend a whole year there, and since only God knows who the truly wicked are, we err on the side of caution and pray the whole year for everyone.

My dad died about a year and a half ago so this subject was on my mind. Another distinctly Catholic thing, that gets Protestants all in a twist, is the veneration of saints. Well, there again, it's an old established Jewish tradition this former Reform Jew had no idea about. All over Israel, and infact, all over the world wherever Jews have lived, are the burial places of famous rabbis and sages. Many observant Jews, and especially Jews from the Mediterrenean areas, will visit these tombs with regularity, and pray the Psalms there. Basically the rabbis tell you that you can ask God to grant your prayer request based on the "merit" of the saintly sage whose tomb you are visiting.

The Rebbe's Tomb

I experienced this directly back at the Lubavitch retreat I attended. The highlight of the visit was a field trip to the Rebbe's Tomb, quaintly called in Hebrew "The Rebbe's Tent" harking back to Abraham's Tent. We were encouraged to write our prayer requests down and once there, we would pray, tear up our paper with the requests and scatter them over the graves of the Rebbe and his father, the previous Rebbe. I had a whole shopping list, and I am pleased to report, that most of the things I prayed for were granted.

All around the graves were people devoutly praying the Psalms. All kinds of people, some clearly religious, some clearly not, and some clearly not Jews at all. Coming up in a couple of weeks, on the evening of May 26, the holiday of Lag b'Omer will begin in the Galilean town of Meron and tens of thousands of Jews will decend on the place, to pray and party at the tomb of Rabbi Simon Bar Yochai. Okay, so it's not the Festa San Gennaro (warning, musical website...)
but it's certainly more exotic !

So many people think Catholics pray to the Saints, (including that Lag b'Omer article I linked to above) instead of with them. I thought so too, until I began to understand the Jewish veneration of saints. Now I really love the Saints. To me, the Litany of the Saints was one of the best parts of both the Easter Vigil, and John Paul the Great's funeral.

More tomorrow......I usually take a day off but next week my house will be filled with various Ulster relations who have no idea we're catholic so...I have to be cagey........